This essay sample essay on The Outsider Albert Camus offers an extensive list of facts and arguments related to it. The essay’s introduction, body paragraphs and the conclusion are provided below.
‘The Outsider’ reflects Camus’ philosophical theory, referred to as the theory of the absurd, that there is no rational meaning in human existence. He believes that humanity is unable to accept this truth and so search for meaning where, in actual fact, none exists. This idea is explored implicitly through the character of Meursault, the narrator and protagonist of the novel.
Moreover, aspects of Camus’ theory can be identified within Ibsen’s play, ‘A Doll’s House’. The play illustrates humanity’s search for meaning of which Camus suggests, although Ibsen’s intention was merely to portray the oppression of nineteenth century marriages.
In the novel ‘The Outsider’, the protagonist, Meursault, is depicted as a man who does not possess any rational meaning in his thoughts or actions. When put in “a room with several other prisoners, most of them Arabs”1 and is asked what he had done unlawful, Meursault simply replies that he “killed an Arab”1.
Then, he carries on recounting other aspects of the occasion such as his sleeping mat and how he “could just see the sea”2 through the tiny window. This scene demonstrates how Meursault is not concerned with judgment as he does not ponder over what should or should not be said in order to conform to the accepted morals of society. His candid reply exhibits his irrational nature, both in thought and action, seeing as he does not think any further of the incident or have an explanation for what had happened.
In addition, he carries on noticing the physical matters surrounding him despite their insignificance to the situation.
Camus creates such a character to exemplify the true nature of human beings, according to him. He does not make it so that Meursault is a supporter of society’s customs in order to clarify the character’s status as an ‘outsider’. Meursault is perceived as an outsider to society because of his acceptance that there is no rational meaning in human existence. Furthermore, his way of thinking and the way he acts show no basis on reason, but more so, on irrationality. This proves that, for Meursault, rational meaning is nonexistent. Camus emphasizes this through the simple language used throughout the novel. He writes in first person perspective and without the use of adjectives and metaphors to reflect Meursault’s straightforward nature and how his interest lies in physical truth rather than interpretations. An illustration is when Meursault receives a telegram from the home. It announces: “Mother passed away”3. Meursault only states that it could have happened today or yesterday but that he doesn’t know. This reveals his concern for the physical truth and his lack of response to the situation. He does not continue on to expressing his sentiment which also illustrates his indifference to humanity.
In contrast to Meursault’s character, Ibsen creates his protagonist as one who does base thoughts and actions on the basis of rationality. When asked if it ever occurred to Nora Helmer, the protagonist of Ibsen’s play ‘A Doll’s House’, that she was committing fraud by forging a signature on an official paper, she replies that it didn’t mean anything to her because, at the time, her husband was in a “critical state”4. She then reasons for the fraud by saying she “couldn’t stand”4 the man she made the deal with as he went through “all those cold-blooded formalities”4 knowing the difficult situation she was in. Unlike Meursault, Nora seems to be concerned with judgment as she attempts to justify her misdeed with an explanation. This is a representation of what Camus mentions in his theory as Nora searches for a rational meaning in order to conform to the social and moral standards set by society.
Initially, Nora is conveyed as a complete adherent to the conventions of society. She did not question nineteenth century marriage norms and accepted her status as a wife and mother. Her husband, Torvald, addressed her as a “little sky-lark”5, a “little squirrel”6 as well as a “little singing bird”7. The recurrence of the word ‘little’ suggests Nora’s insignificance and expresses Torvald’s condescending attitude towards her. Further, these pet names signify her as purely a plaything. Nora is also symbolized as a plaything by the Christmas tree mentioned at the beginning of the play. She is comparable to a Christmas tree as it possesses a physical beauty about it and can also evoke feelings of warmth as a mother does.
However, both the tree and Nora seem to be simple household decorations to Torvald as opposed to anything with genuine worth. As the play progresses, Nora finds herself being more and more oppressed by her marriage and decides to leave behind her family in search of an identity independent from her own as a wife and mother. Her rebellion against her family, and especially her husband, is foreshadowed at the very start of the play as she “takes a bag of macaroons out of her pocket and eats one or two”5 against her husband’s favor. When asked of the matter, she lies directly to him and states that she “would never dream of doing anything”8 that he didn’t want her to. This remark contrasts to Meursault’s frank nature as Nora’s deceitful personality is revealed.
Additionally, Nora’s departure explores Camus’ theory in the way which she attempts to find meaning in her own existence. By leaving behind her family, she believes she will discover her true identity as somebody more than just a wife and mother. Ibsen uses irony to present this situation by symbolizing Nora as the ‘singing bird’ which her husband regularly addressed her as. He tells her that she “mustn’t go dropping her wings”7 but, in reality, she does quite the opposite – she ‘flies away’. The bird is a symbol for her freedom as it is able to fly freely without the limitations of its cage, in Nora’s case, without the limitations of being a wife and mother.
In ‘The Outsider’, humanity’s search for meaning is also communicated, however, through the other characters rather than the protagonist. Camus uses the motif of observations to exemplify how endless this search for meaning is. In the courtroom of Meursault’s trail, the judge observes a witness for a rational answer to either convict or discharge Meursault for the murder previously committed. In response, the witness “again repeated”9 a futile statement that results in him being asked to sit back down. This scene demonstrates how people attempt to give rational explanations to irrational actions. As the prosecutor is unable to find a rational meaning behind the murder, Meursault is condemned to death for being a menace, or merely an ‘outsider’, to the customs of society. His trail beforehand is incorporated to encapsulate humanity’s attempt to find rational meaning. It is an illustration of the theory of the absurd because, in the end, there is no rational meaning, and so, this scene successfully depicts Camus’ belief that to find rationality in an irrational world is prone to be a failure.
This motif of observation also communicates Meursault’s emotional detachment, mentioned earlier, as he describes things only as they are, without any interpretation or judgment of it. This detachment is significant as it verifies Meursault’s status as an outsider to humanity. He does not do as the majority of people would: form opinions. An illustration of this is when Meursault observes the “peculiar little woman”10 dining at Celeste’s. He notices all the physical details such as how she “took out a blue pencil”11 to write with and the “magazine which gave the radio programmes for the week”11. He notices these details of color and subject without thinking any deeper about them and, within moments, he forgets about her. This is ironic as she is very similar to Meursault himself yet he regards her as ‘peculiar’.
Both Camus and Ibsen also explore how appearances can disguise reality. Ibsen displays this through Nora’s drastic change in character from a seemingly unintelligent and simpleminded woman to someone of strong will and independence, whilst Camus shows that Meursault’s appearance as a menacing person is all along masked by society’s perception of him as an ‘outsider’. In conclusion, both protagonists accept their reality and experience what freedom is to them. For Meursault, he accepts the reality that he is truly an ‘outsider’ to society whereas for Nora, she accepts the reality that she is not fitted as a wife or mother. For that reason, she decides leave, against the conventions of her time, in order to pursue her own aspirations. However, if Camus’ philosophy were to be applied to Ibsen’s play, then Nora’s search for meaning would ultimately be a failure as no meaning would exist in the first place.